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Poetry Magnum Opus

Gaius Caecilius Metellus


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Part the First: In which G. Caecilius Metellus embarks upon a public career.





(These events take place between the consulships of L. Gellus and Cn. Cornelius Lentulus Clodianus and that of Q. Hortentius Hortalus and Q. Caecilius Metellus, that is to say, from the 681st to the 685th Year of the founding of Rome)


The envy of Peperna brought them low in the end;

too many drinks at a feast, a sudden flash of swords,

and in the passions born of burning jealousy,

the great general, Sertorius, was cruelly cut down.

I was then just a military tribune, rising nineteen,

under the command of my uncle, Metellus Pius;

when news of the murder made its way to our camp,

I was not the only young officer to sigh with relief.


Fighting in Spain had been harsh and unpleasant,

days of humping dry hills under a punishing sun;

lightning cavalry probes on our flanks, sudden panic,

dead companions, wounds, no trace of the enemy.

With the shrewd Sertorius gone, we soon wrapped it up,

although my laconic Uncle Pius reddened with rage

when Pompey (the ‘Great’) stole away with the credit;

as for me, I was delighted at last to sail home.


Ah, Rome!


You have no idea what it’s like to be back in the city,

to walk again the crowded, cacophonous, colourful streets;

to stroll in the Forum, linger lazily in the baths,

sleep with the scented and sultry depilated girls!

My father, cold and stern in the approved old manner,

tipped me out of bed at sunrise on the third morning;

‘Holiday over,’ he grunted, as we stood in the cold atrium,

face to face with ancestral masks, ‘time to get cracking.’


So farewell to low taverns, to laughing louche companions!

I notice, when you stand in the Forum on election morning,

that the white powder that gleams on your snow-bright toga

rises in little puffs, gets up your nose and makes you sneeze.

There I was, poised uneasily, on the bottom lowly rung

of the steep and seemingly lifelong cursus honorum,

a narrow, overcrowded, and quite often lethal ladder

that might lead one day to the dizzy heights of Consul.


I could see friends grinning up from the surging crowds,

as battered bones still ached from the ordeals of Spain;

my father’s clients milled about full of fussy attentions,

with such a formidable family, I had little chance of losing.

Duly elected quaestor, I was assigned to the Treasury,

about the most boring job you could possibly imagine;

daily I put my seal on whole streams of arcane documents,

presented and removed by dour and efficient silent slaves.


The sheer monotony of this unchanging daily routine

very soon made me frantic with the seeds of frustration;

I would slip away for the odd party or secret assignation,

but Boras, that bastard, would infallibly track me down.

Boras, ex-centurion, ex-primus pilus, far-too-loyal retainer,

son of a freedman who had once been slave to the family;

built from brick and scarred marble, doglike in his devotion,

he had no patience for ‘ softarse young pups on the town’.


In my experience, when your fortunes begin to sink low,

they have a way of descending into something far worse;

I’d only months left in the horrible job I’d been stuck with,

when Father announced yet another of his fine notions.

‘There you are, son,’ he boomed, ‘my, you do seem peaky!

‘I think it’s time we put a bloom on those pale pasty cheeks.’

O, gods, no, I thought, whatever this is, I really don’t want it!

‘I think it’s time,’ said the parent, ‘to think of your marriage.’


Boras, you evil old snitch, was my first conscious thought,

you ratted on my all-too-rare nights down in the Subura;

Boras’ eyes never once flickered in his long mahogany face,

so, then, I thought, it must be politics – isn't it always politics!

‘We need to steer a careful path,’ said Father, predictably,

‘between the remaining old supporters of Marius and Sulla ;

‘the family is not all that badly placed, but this could change,

‘we need to consider these rising men, Pompey and Crassus.


‘We connect with Pompey through your cousin,’ he continued,

‘But Crassus has no daughters!’ I cried out, without thinking;

this earned a frown from Father, an obelisk stare from Boras,

‘If you will allow me’, said Father, ‘I was thinking of the Julians’.

‘But this fellow Caesar is a scheming villain, all piss and vinegar!’

‘He may prove a successful villain, and there's an unmarried niece.’

My heart sank straight to my toes, like a heavy stone within me,

I knew all about snooty young Julia, the ice-cold patrician princess.


I gazed blankly at my father, my eyes heavy and dull with horror;

I felt transfixed, impaled, like one of the six thousand unfortunate slaves

that Crassus, not so very long ago, had roped and nailed to crosses

and left to die, slowly, mile after mile of them along the road to Rome.

‘Cheer up,’ said Father, ‘the betrothal is the thing, the girl is still young.’

She is all of seven, I thought, which carries your scheming a little too far.

‘We need to plan ahead,’ he growled, ‘I command, and you will obey!’

First Spain, then the Treasury, now this: O gods, I must get away.



Brief notes:


- dates: approx. 72-69 BCE

- Sertorian War: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sertorian_War

- cursus honorum: elected magistrates http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cursus_honorum

- primus pilus: a sort of regimental sergeant-major http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Primus_pilus

- Subura: a working class red light district in ancient Rome


The Metelli were a prominent senatorial family, conservative in outlook, but determined to preserve the Roman Republic as they understood it. They produced an impressive number of consuls and military leaders but were ultimately unable to prevent a showdown between the dignified political obtuseness of Pompey and the the unscrupulous political brilliance of Caesar, both powerful ambitious men with large armies to call upon. In a real sense, military expansion (the growth of empire) destroyed the republic, a lesson from history to any imperial power that masquerades as a republic at home. See the following article on the family: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Metellus_Pius

Edited by dedalus

Drown your sorrows in drink, by all means, but the real sorrows can swim

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Frank E Gibbard

Already a fan of this historical saga, having seen elsewhere Bren (you know where/ still missing your participation) I have a head-start over new readers. I like the methods of copious research and assuming the skins of the cast of characters to act out the story with that fly-on-the-wall vérité that brings this past alive. Frank

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"Unbearable, isn't it? The suffering of strangers, the agony of friends.

There is a secret song at the center of the world, Joey, and its sound is like razors through flesh."


"I don't believe you."


"Oh come, you can hear its faint echo right now. I'm here to turn up the volume.

To press the stinking face of humanity into the dark blood of its own secret heart."

"There's a starving beast inside my chest
playing with me until he's bored
Then, slowly burying his tusks in my flesh
crawling his way out he rips open old wounds

When I reach for the knife placed on the bedside table
its blade reflects my determined face
to plant it in my chest
and carve a hole so deep it snaps my veins

Hollow me out, I want to feel empty"
-- "Being Able To Feel Nothing" by Oathbreaker


"Sky turns to a deeper grey

the sun fades by the moon

hell's come from the distant hills

tortures dreams of the doomed

and they pray, yet they prey

and they pray, still they prey"
-- "Still They Prey" by Cough


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Is our old forum still going, Frank? I thought it had been scrapped owing to all the spam attacks and that PMO was its successor, seeing as how many of the old crowd were asked to join. This is indeed an oul' blasht from the pasht, as we say in Ballygobshite down by the waters: couldn't resist the urge to resuscitate it! Hope all's well in Ealing. We had a bit of a knock over here but everyone's pulling together.



Drown your sorrows in drink, by all means, but the real sorrows can swim

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It takes great skill and knowledge to write around established historical facts and remain entertaining. Your choice of language works well, i:e. “But this fellow Caesar is a scheming villain, all piss and vinegar!” He may prove a successful villain”. In a modern context I can think of several prominent people who fit that particular description. Enjoyed. Benjamin.

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Great historical poem, and you are one of the best writers who can write this type of a poem. I admire you, Bren. I wished I could write something similar. Well done.



The poet is a liar who always speaks the truth - Jean Cocteau

History of Macedonia



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